Kane County's eager-but-cautious attitude toward tourism is based on experience. Even without the monument, towns like Kanab have begun to see the negative side of a minimum-wage economy and the outsiders it attracts. The newcomers may also have a tough time fitting in with the locals. The communities in Kane and Garfield counties share two characteristics: The citizens are predominately white and Mormon.
"The people that come down to fill these jobs have different values," says Tom Hatch, a sixth generation rancher who represents both Kane and Garfield counties in the state Legislature. "They work a season and then they go on welfare or unemployment. It's changed our schools and our kids. We have drugs and violence and some kids want to become gang members."
Steering the ship
Matson says the county will keep tourism's downside uppermost in its mind during the BLM's planning process. "We want to steer the ship rather than have someone steer it for us," he says.
Steering the ship means local control. The county wants monument visitor centers and staff offices located within communities such as Kanab and Escalante, not inside the monument. Environmentalists say they like that idea.
"There's no reason to put a Marriott in the middle of the Kaiparowits Plateau," says Scott Groene, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This is actually a place where we all agree."
Jerry Meredith says his agency will consider placing several visitor centers in the communities around the monument. "This monument is so spread out that it doesn't lend itself to having one central headquarters," says Meredith, who previously oversaw the monument area, as the BLM's Cedar City district manager.
Kane County also wants to hire county employees to man new monument campgrounds and facilities. The idea of having local people filling these slots - instead of senior citizen volunteers or federal employees from afar - is novel.
"If we could get 150 jobs paying $8, $9 or $10 an hour with benefits, that would be a whole lot more than we have now," says Richard Negus, CORE's public affairs director.
Meredith says the BLM will consider contracting out services to the counties, though it is too early to commit.
Garfield County: Holding to the past
Garfield County is Kane County's colder, rougher brother. It has some of the most scenic - and already well-visited - portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (BLM officials say that more than 500,000 visited the monument area last year and this year the number is likely to boom.) But the county's cool and wet winter climate, compared to Kane County, also means a shorter tourism season. Its towns are smaller and scattered across a landscape that is more than 98 percent federally owned. All 4,000 county residents could fit into the town of Kanab.
It's snowing and raw as I drive through Panguitch, the county seat. And quiet. Only a handful of cars and trucks cluster around the open businesses - a grocery store and a gas station. Panguitch is the county's biggest town with a population of 1,400, but it looks like a carnival that has closed for the season. The museums, gift stores and hotels are here, but no customers. The town lost a timber mill and nearly 100 jobs two years ago.
Twenty-five miles and maybe six cars later, a lone coyote scampers across the road as I turn in to Bryce Canyon National Park. Ruby's Inn stands guard just outside the park entrance; compared with Panguitch, it bustles. A busload of foreign tourists load up in front of the lodge, which is run by a local family; inside, several dozen tourists dine at the cafe and browse in a souvenir shop the size of a department store.
At 80 years old, Ruby's Inn is the economic heavy of Garfield County, employing nearly 500 people during the summer months. But the minimum-wage-plus-tips pay can't compare to wages provided by a coal mine or a timber mill.
The next lonely hour down the road runs right through portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This northwestern side of the monument, with its hayfields surrounded by towering cliffs dotted with juniper and pine, seems a world away from the harsh desert I encountered near Big Water. And it is; it has taken me a whole day to travel around just the western half of the monument.
I finally reach Escalante, another Mormon-settled community where locals recently hung effigies of President Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. There's a room at the Prospector's Inn, but only after I track down one of the owners washing her truck out back.
She asks me if I'm here to see the monument. "Well, take a look out the window," she says when I say yes. "Everything you see is the monument except for this little town."
The woman says she doubts the monument will lead to a boom in Escalante. But later, as she serves dinner at the restaurant behind the hotel, she says hers is one of three new hotels to open in town within the last three years. And someone recently bought one of the original old, brick, two-story, Mormon settlers' houses which abound in this town, intending to run a bed and breakfast.
Even here, in a settlement that looks much as it did a century ago, change is in the air.